While it is still under probe as to who was behind the spying, the reasons why these individuals were victims of snooping is what we reveal in our WhatsApp Spygate Investigations.
The biggest threat to autocracies masquerading as democracies are the voices that reveal the real face of the people in power. Last year, WhatsApp Spyware “Pegasus” developed by NSO (Israel) was used to spy on Indian citizens.
It was a complex set of research and interlinking to understand one aspect of the spying. While it is still under probe as to who was behind the spying, the reason these individuals were hacked is what we were after in our WhatsApp Spygate Investigations.
Why these individuals were spied upon?
Through our investigation, we have found that the targets of the WhatsApp based spying are mostly Dalit and Tribal Activists. Few of them are the human rights activist lawyers fighting cases for Dalits and Tribal people allegedly falsely accused of being connected to Maoist movement.
We have classified the targets based on their field of activism – involved in the Bhima Koregaon violence case, involved in cases related to tribal population in the mining belt of Chhattisgarh and other Journalists, Academicians, Human Rights Activist and Lawyers. Here are the targets of the 2019 WhatsApp Spygate and the reasons as to why they were spied upon that we found out in our investigations.
WhatsApp Spygate Investigations — Bhima Koregaon Case
#1 Shalini Gera
Shalini Gera is a human rights lawyer from Bastar (Chhattisgarh) and also co-founder of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG). JagLAG is a non-profit organization which provides free legal services to tribes inducted in Naxal-related cases. JagLAG also works on cases involving police brutality, torture in custody, extra-judicial killing, and illegal detention. The group basically works in 5 worst affected districts in south Chhattisgarh: Bastar, Dantewada, Kanker, Sukma and Bijapur.
Gera is currently fighting a case for Sudha Bhardwaj, a jailed lawyer and a civil rights activist working against the land acquisition in Chhattisgarh. Bhardwaj is also a member of the People’s Union Civil Liberties (PUCL). Bhardwaj is also associated with Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, a labour union in Dalli Rajhara mines and other mines and plants located in Bhilai. Bhardwaj was also engaged in working for tribal and Dalit rights.
However, Bhardwaj is accused in connection with the Bhima Koregaon Case (BKC). Bhardwaj also condemned the arrest of Surendra Gadling (also accused in BKC). Furthermore, in July 2018, a report by Republic TV allegedly accused Bhardwaj, a member of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers, of writing a letter to Maoists.
#2 Nihalsing Rathod
Rathod is a Dalit Activist and a Nagpur-based lawyer fighting a case for Surendra Gadling. He is also a member of the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN). It provides legal support to the vulnerable sections of the society. It works for the child rights, prisoner’s rights, labour and worker’s rights, minorities’ rights, Dalit and tribal rights, sexual violence cases, Anti-trafficking, Right to Information, Women’s justice, and more.
#3 Jagdish Meshram
Meshram is a Gadchiroli, Maharashtra based human rights lawyer. He might have been attacked through Pegasus WhatsApp spyware because he closely worked with Surendra Gadling and Nihalsing Rathod. He is also a member of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers.
#4 Ankit Grewal
Grewal is a Chandigarh based human rights lawyer. He had represented Sudha Bhardwaj in Bhima Koregaon Case, which is the possible ground for WhatsApp snooping on Grewal.
#5 Anand Teltumbde
Teltumbde is an Indian scholar, academic writer, Dalit writer, and a civil rights activist. He staunchly wrote against the caste system in India. However, he has been accused in Bhima Koregaon Case and also allegedly arrested for being involved in the Elgar Parishad case. He is also accused of being involved with Maoist groups but no substantial reports have been found.
As per a report by the Washington Post, Teltumbde was arrested when the government seriously attempted to crackdown on lawyers and activists. Teltumbde is a prominent face in the lawyer lobby that condemns the government of not solving issues related to tribal and Dalit population.
#6 Vivek Sundara
Sundara is a human rights and environmental activist. Sundara is one of the members associated with Bhim Army leader Chandrasekhar Azad ‘Ravan’. Bhim Army is related to Dalit activism and campaigns against the atrocities on the Dalit community such as cultural, social and political discrimination, racist violence, rapes, untouchability practices and more. He might have been the victim of WhatsApp snooping because of his connections with Shalini Gera.
#7 P. Pavana
Pavana is the daughter of Varavara Rao, also accused in Bhima Koregaon case. Rao is a social activist, journalist, renowned poet, and a literary critic. He was also involved in the Telangana Movement.
During 1973-75, Andhra Pradesh Government jailed him for his political and literary works. However, subsequently, Andhra High Court released him and warned the government to not resort to any such action in future against the writers unless their writings lead to civil unrest or physical actions.
Furthermore, in 2001, the Telugu Desam Government appointed him to be an emissary between Naxalites and the then CPI (ML) to bring peace negotiations.
#8 Rupali Jadhav
Jadhav is a social activist with the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). KKM was a cultural organization from Pune. They aimed to protest and spread an anti-caste and pro-democracy message through their music, poetry and theatres.
However, in 2011 there was a crackdown against KKM activists. The members were arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act by the Maharashtra Government. They were allegedly charged as Maoists and Naxalites because of their radical poetries and songs.
Rupali Jadhav may have been snooped because some of the KKM members were arrested for being allegedly involved in BKC.
WhatsApp Spygate Investigations — Mining in Tribal Lands of Chhattisgarh
Mining in Chhattisgarh by big corporates including Adani Enterprises has displaced tribals and Dalits, directly infringing fundamental rights and other constitutional reservations. Parsa East and Kente Basin mines were awarded to the state-owned company Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam (RRVUNL) in 2007. RRVUNL has now outsourced all operations to Rajasthan Collieries Limited, a subsidiary of Adani Enterprises.
#9 Bela Bhatia
Bhatia is an academic writer and Bastar, Chhattisgarh based human rights lawyer. She is independently working on issues related to Dalit and tribal groups. Bhatia has been studying the matters related to the ongoing war between the Indian government and Maoist groups.
She has repeatedly been harassed by police-linked vigilante organizations. She is a democratic rights activist.
#10 Degree Prasad Chouhan
Chouhan is Chhattisgarh based social activist and a human rights lawyer working mostly towards providing legal support to the Dalit community. He substantially works against Dalit atrocities, illegal land grabbing, extrajudicial killings, illegal detention, force-displacement of indigenous tribes and people by state forces and business corporates. He is also a member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Chhattisgarh.
#11 Shubhranshu Choudhary
He is a former journalist who worked with BBC World Service. Currently, he is involved in peace activity in Maoist infested areas in Chhattisgarh. Choudhary used to run CG Net Swara (Voice of Chhattisgarh) and now involved in spreading ‘Bultu or Bultoo’ Radio (Bluetooth Radio) amongst the tribes. His efforts aim at transforming the people in remote areas and enabling them to receive and share news and information.
PM Modi in 2016 met Choudhary discussing the Bultoo model and praised him. Modi wanted to replicate the same model in other rural areas. As per Choudhary, he might have been targeted because of his efforts towards building a capable opportunity for a dialogue between the Indian government and the Maoists. Furthermore, Choudhary added that his team has also been campaigning for the release of prisoners and the issue of displaced tribal population.
#12 Alok Shukla
Shukla is a social and human rights activist and currently the convener of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan (CBA). CBA, with other social and human rights activists, is involved in campaigns against the coal, steel and other mining in the state. Shukla is also involved in campaigns against Adani Enterprises since last 8 years over exploitative project mining and displacing the tribal people.
Other Journalists, Academicians, Human Rights Activist and Lawyers Spied Upon
#13 Santosh Bharatiya
Bharatiya is a political journalist and runs the online news portal called Chauthi Duniya. In 1989, he was also elected as a Member of Parliament from Lok Sabha from Farrukhabad Constituency of UP. He was also involved with the social activists Anna Hazare and VK Singh.
#14 Ashish Gupta
Ashish Gupta is a civil rights activist with CDRO (Coordination of Democratic Rights Organizations). CRDO fights against state repression and support the right to organize and struggle, a basic democratic right of the people. Gupta heads the Asomiya Pratidin Bureau at New Delhi. He might have been the victim of WhatsApp snooping because of his human rights activism.
#15 Siddhant Sibal
Sibal is also a Delhi based journalist currently working in WION (World is One News) as Principal Diplomatic and Defense Correspondent. ZEE Media owns WION. However, Sibal was covering PM Modi’s complete tour of 29th-30th October of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
#16 Rajeev Sharma
Sharma is another Delhi based freelance journalist, columnist and strategic affairs analyst. Sharma, when asked by a reporter on why he was targeted, said that it might be because of his opinion on the elections.
#17 Dr. Saroj Giri
Giri is currently a Professor in Delhi University and a human rights activist. He mainly and quite profoundly writes on Dalit issues. Having an ideological tilt towards the Marxist philosophy, Giri’s write-ups on caste issues, capitalism, Maoist problem, social transformation, and rising radicalization among people might have resulted in the spying.
#18 Dr. Ajmal Khan
Ajmal Khan is a Delhi based civil rights activist. He is an independent researcher, completed his doctorate from TISS. He profoundly writes and researches on Dalit and tribal issues.
#19 Seema Azad
Seema Azad is a journalist and human rights activist associated with PUCL in Allahabad (now Prayagraj), Uttar Pradesh. In 2012, a lower court order charged Azad and her husband with the draconian sedition law. Both were charged in Maoist related cases and held guilty for waging a war against the nation.
However, the High Court later granted them bail in the case. Both of them raised voice against the mafia operated racket involved in illegal mining activity in Allahabad and nearby areas. They also opposed and stood against the takeover of farmers’ lands and livelihood. Azad also accused government and security forces of promoting witch-hunt of Muslim youth in Azamgarh.
#20 Amar Singh Chahal
Chahal is a Chandigarh based human rights lawyer. He is also a member of Lawyers for Human Rights International (LFHRI). LFHRI provides free legal aids to the poor by filing cases of human rights violation such as custodial violence or death by state agencies, domestic violence, and sexual abuses.
However, recently LFHRI started to campaign against the death penalty in India. Chahal and many others claim that it is being misused against minorities and depressed classes. LFHRI also undertakes many educational projects for spreading human rights awareness among people.
#21 Balla Ravindranath
Balla is a human rights activist lawyer in Telangana High Court. He is also the general secretary of Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP). He is also fighting the cases of Maoist leaders. Ravindranath also fights cases for the people illegally accused under charges of being Maoist or having links with Maoists. He is accused in a Maoist conspiracy case by the Telangana police.
#22 Mandeep Singh
Singh is a Chandigarh based human rights lawyer. Singh basically works as a consumer rights lawyer. He is a renowned member of the People’s Union for Civil Rights. Singh also participates in many fact-finding cases and investigations related to human rights causes and its infringement.
Who wants to keep a track on Human Rights Activists?
Historically, power corrupts and leads people to believe that they are above the law. They then try to suppress voices of the depressed class. When this class fights back against atrocities, they are indicted through false cases, spying, and draconian laws.
In our WhatsApp Spygate Investigations, as explained above, human rights activists, journalists and lawyers fighting for depressed classes and laws putting corporates over the common man were targeted.
So, while trying to speculate the ‘WHO’ of the WhatsApp Spygate Investigations, there are two major questions that arise –
- Who holds enough financial power to ensure such a kind of targeted spying, where costs run into millions?
- Who stands to gain the most by suppressing dissent and voices standing up for the powerless?